2012: The MMA year that was
Another year is over and the MMA world has soldiered on through a sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating year.
Now we put it all in a bottle, shake it up and release the 2012 Roar-view of everything MMA, where we will crown fighter, story, KO, submission and fight of the year.
Fighter of the Year: Benson Henderson
To put it mathematically: Ben Henderson is the only UFC fighter to win three championship matches in 2012. To put it far more colourfully: 2012 was the year the year ‘Smooth’ Benson Henderson established himself as the dominant force in the ultra-deep lightweight division.
Henderson entered 2012 as number one contender, ready to face Frankie Edgar, the Rocky and Energizer Bunny love child. Henderson beat him twice.
While some will still argue Edgar should have taken the decision in both fights, Henderson was the man with his hand raised and the new lightweight king.
As impressive as twin victories over Edgar were, it was Smooth’s one-sided beating of Nate Diaz which stamped him as fighter of the year and a true champion to be reckoned with.
Diaz is a tricky proposition at the best of times but Henderson didn’t give him a sniff. In a complete performance from a complete athlete he showed everyone why he is now The Man at 155.
He has no obvious holes in his game, he can kick, box and wrestle with the best of them and unlike Edgar, the man he dethroned, has size on his side.
In my mind he now sits equal with Jose Aldo at four in mythical the pound-for-pound rankings and if his 2012 hot streak continues into 2013 he could be champion for a very long time.
Ronda Rousey: Bought women’s MMA into the headlines for good this year, with two breathtaking armbar victories, the first of which gained her the Strike Force Women’s Bantamweight Championship.
Her popularity forced UFC President Dana White’s hand and she will start 2013 as the inaugural UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion. She is skillful, tough and charismatic, in other words the perfect person to launch women’s MMA into the mainstream.
Cain Velsaquez: Put an extremely disappointing 2011 behind him, earning his place here not through quantity of wins but quality.
He brutalised top 10 heavyweight Antonio Silva at UFC 146, before repeating the process against Junior Dos Santos to reclaim the heavyweight championship at UFC 155.
He is the best all-round athlete in the heavyweight division and has shown this year that when he is motivated and injury free, very few things stand in his way.
Very few looked as untouchable as him in 2012.
Story of the Year: The UFC Goes To China
In a year of some big UFC stories including the demise of Strikeforce, a bevy of injuries and the cancelation of UFC 151, this one flew under the radar a little, however only the creation of a women’s division comes remotely as close to carrying as much long term weight as this one.
This year the UFC hosted its first ever event in China with UFC on Fuel TV Franklin v Le.
By all reports it was extremely well received locally but in a bid to further boost their local standings and publicity by creating some home grown stars, Zuffa established a program that offers promising Chinese fighters the chance to travel to the US and receive elite US coaching.
It is no longer a secret that China is growing into the world’s biggest economy and along with its rise has grown a giant middle class with a giant combined disposable income. There is a reason companies like Apple court the Chinese middle class.
It is because in fifty years time these people will have replaced the American middle class as the world’s biggest consumers.
China also has a rich martial arts history, one which the UFC will be longing to tap into and build off of as it grows within the country.
In the UFC’s quest to become the biggest sport in the world, Dana White is looking at China as his long term trump card.
The true pay off won’t even start to come for a decade, if not longer, but if the UFC hits it big in China the company’s moves this year will be remembered as the foundation the future of the sport was built off.
UFC absorbs Strikeforce and starts a women’s division: This one had been on the cards for a long time but when it was finally announced it came with the surprise addition of Strikeforce’s women’s division with Rhonda Rousey crowned the inaugural UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion.
Injuries, injuries, injuries: More a culmination of stories than one in particular but this year you would be hard pressed to find a fight card that wasn’t shaped by injuries to some of the main players (there are a few if you look close enough).
Climaxing in the cancellation of UFC 151, the UFC injury curse played havoc with booking decisions all year and undoubtedly had a big effect on the company’s 2012 bottom line not to mention Dana White’s sanity.
The two serious ones are out of the way so here are some of the moments which made us stand up and cheer this year.
Fight of the Year: Jim Miller v Joe Louzon at UFC 155
At the end of a sometimes frustrating year for many fans, these two got in the cage and reminded us all why this sport is just so damn exciting with a fast, back and forth battle covering all aspects of the sport.
Miller may have dominated for most of it but Louzon showed the heart of a warrior and kept looking for the win it right up until a flying knee-bar and then choke hold on the final bell.
Knockout of the Year: Anthony Pettiss, headkick v Joe Louzon at UFC 144
Pettis brushed off a disappointing 2011 and welcomed 2012 in style with this jaw dropping head kick. Nothing is as graceful and impressive as a one kick knockout and this one will stay on the highlight reel for a long time.
Submission of the Year: Rhonda Rousey, armbar v Meicha Tate at Strikeforce 39
If you are looking for proof that women fighters are the real deal, look no further. Fighting for the Stikeforce bantamweight belt, Rousey locked Tate in one of her trademark, perfectly executed armbars but in a display of pride only a fighter would understand, the champ refused to tap until her arm had bent well and truly out of shape.
Tate’s courage, as much as Rousey’s skill, makes this one submission of the year.
Let us know in the comments below your particular highlights for the MMA year.